Cobb BOC approves engineering agreement for extending Silver Comet Trail

Cyclist on the Silver Comet Trail in article about Silver Comet Trail reopenCyclist on the Silver Comet Trail (photo by Larry Felton Johnson)

It’ll be a while longer before construction begins in earnest, but the Cobb County Board of Commissioners (BOC) this week approved an important step toward extending the Silver Comet Trail.

After securing right of way last fall, this week the BOC approved agreements with the PATH Foundation and CSX Transportation for preliminary engineering studies as part of getting the trail from its current endpoint all the way to the Chattahoochee River and the Atlanta city limits.

Though it has agreed to the project CSX still has a role to play in the Silver Comet Trail extension. The agreement involves paying CSX $18,400 to review and approve plans for the extension. This is necessary because the trail will cross over and under the railroad right of way at two points on Atlanta Road. PATH is paying the fee through private donations.

“In order for CSX to review the plans to take the trail over the bridge, they require a fee to review the plans,” said Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation. “We have to go by the railroad’s rules when we’re within their corridor.”

McBrayer estimated that preliminary engineering will take the remainder of 2019, with construction beginning sometime in 2020. Once the trail is extended into Atlanta, the plan is to link with the Atlanta Beltline, allowing bike rides from Cobb and beyond all the way into downtown.

“When this is done you’ll be able to get on a trail in Anniston, Alabama and ride to downtown Atlanta,” McBrayer said.

The Cobb County Department of Transportation and PATH are partnering on the design and funding of the project, which early estimates placed around $10 million to build.

Cobb DOT project manager Karyn Matthews said PATH has agreed to fund roughly 80 percent of the extension, with the county needing to cover the remaining 20 percent.

“PATH is waiting on the survey before they can finalize the engineering,” said Matthews. “We’re helping them get that survey done for the corridor.”

CSX is also still in the process of abandoning the track needed for the extension, and Cobb DOT is surveying the land in order to get accurate elevations.

“Everybody has always said it’s tough to get in your car, load up your bike and drive to where the Silver Comet Trail starts now,” said McBrayer. “This will extend it all the way into the City of Atlanta, where a lot of people can avoid that Mavell Road parking lot and get on the trail earlier.”

It’s one more step in a decades-long project to convert the old railroad into a bike trail. The original Silver Comet Trail was started in the 1990s, again with PATH heavily involved. Once the initial phase was complete, an advocacy group, Connect The Comet, pushed for an extension into Atlanta for more than a decade before finally succeeding in getting CSX to release the track as far east as Plant McDonough-Atkinson in 2018.

“I am extremely pleased that Cobb County leaders have taken this next important step in extending the Silver Comet Trail to Atlanta,” said Wendell Burks, managing director of Connect the Comet. “There is still a long way to go in making this trail extension a reality. It will still be years before the first cyclist or pedestrian makes it to the river on the trail, but we are encouraged by this news.”